Dear Members of the Faculty and the Academic/ Non-Academic Staff in all Units and Campuses,
Greetings of Peace and Light! On behalf of the other institutional administrators, I wish to welcome you warmly to Academic Year 2020-2021.
We have all been very busy since the lockdown as we broke into different Working Groups to handle the new reality’s academic demands that had been disrupted in March. So we have not had a real mid-year rest. But in a way, the pandemic provided the fillip for us to move faster in what we had long planned to do, and we became ready for the opening of this new academic year. I hereby thank you sincerely for your hard work the past months!
Initially I thought of welcoming you with a message on the VUCA world—V for vulnerability, U for uncertainty, C for complexity, and A for ambiguity—to frame our academic approach to the new learning environment and to prepare maps of possibilities for the future. I had finished that message, in fact, but after listening to the group reports on the town hall meetings or THMs, I decided to put the message aside for another occasion as I sensed your fears and continuing hurt. So let me share my thoughts instead, if you will, on Building Trust and Courage in the midst of vulnerability. Hopefully this compound topic will help us muster enough courage to face the new academic year which is indeed fraught—unfamiliarity with the KNOLLER online campus, the anxious students, the worried parents, the overstretched administrators, and our overworked selves—all these adding to our feeling of vulnerability and being unprotected from any possible untoward action or reaction from anyone.
Through the town hall meetings, we realized that we, too, need safe spaces—like our students—from unkind cuts that can be inflicted upon us. So we have to brace ourselves for any possible occurrence by building our courage. To do this, we also have to work on building trust in ourselves, in our colleagues, in our administrators, and in those we serve.
In a recent online meeting with a group, I have called attention to the use of social media. Almost all of us use personal social media accounts. So does the school as an institution. It is indeed a very good source of spreading news (truthful or otherwise). In studies of social and political movements, social media has played a good role. Social media has equalized power among those in authority and those below them. And this is a good development as demonstrated in the Arab Spring movements more than a decade ago which changed governments within months. Likewise, with the #MeToo movement.
But recently there have been instances where social media had been abused. The election of the US President in 2016 was regarded as mostly driven by social media with the support of a group using Cambridge Analytica and a million fake FB accounts. This group (or reportedly another country?) saw Trump’s victory as good for this group’s agenda. This brought Facebook under the scrutiny of US telecom or IT regulators that demanded that it modifies its “no filter” policy and monitor fake accounts. And Twitter has recently set standards on “proper” messaging due to vitriolic racist remarks that fueled racial unrest in the US.
The difference between social and mainstream media is that the mainstream media cannot publish anything without fact-checking. And any individual who has been featured in an unflattering light is given the space to reply through a letter to the editor or to the columnist. This feature is missing in social media and so one can feel defenseless if Twitter, Viber, Chat, or an FB wall is used against her/him. You may know someone who has become the topic of a Viber exchange or of a chat about something insignificant (in our view) but made big by Viber or a chat? Some are demeaning characterizations of what we are—the way we speak, look, or dress—or making fun of someone in our family photo posted on FB. I know a few. It hurt, but these colleagues could not do anything except cry.
A Scottish philosopher, Thomas Carlyle said that if you want to test a person’s character, give him power. He observed that most people grow or deepen in character in the face of adversity or misfortune. But given “power”, the true character of an empowered individual will be revealed by how he/she wields that power. The noble character will not use his/her power carelessly because he is aware of the pain his/her power can inflict on others when used in a negative way. These are “the gentle giants and the real leaders or statesmen”. Power is at its most potent when used to create and to build communities, to improve social and political conditions; to save lives or to ameliorate living standards. Social media can also be powerful in moving nation states to topple dictators. But at the personal level social media can be “weaponized.” And this, as your discussions point out, is what you fear and what makes you feel unsafe.
This is where building trust comes in. It is said that trust builds trust. And the converse is true. One’s mistrust of the other side builds the other’s mistrust too. To start or re-start a good relationship with all whom we deal with at home and in school, we must build trust or deepen it by following certain basic principles.
Being reliable in what we are supposed to do is a good start. We do as we promise. We remain constant or reliable in our care and love for another even if the other commits a mistake. I like what the MCSDTEC shared during our Institutional Committee on Ethics and Protocol (ICEP) meeting: “The students should be allowed to commit mistakes in the classroom” because it is there where they can learn how to rise again after a mistake or failure. Being accountable is also very important. This means not being hesitant to own a mistake. And there should not be any shaming when one errs. As we train ourselves, let us also train our students to learn to own a mistake or a shortcoming. “I am sorry” are three little words that mean a lot—like the other three little words, “I love you.”
Keep confidences. This means not sharing what we know about a third person even with our closest friend. I had the good fortune of being given a service car in my past positions. The one that I respected and liked the most was a driver in New Delhi who did not share stories about his past bosses with me. I knew then that he would treat me and my family the same way—he would not tell others anything about us. My family treasured his friendship more than the “friendship” of others in more important positions.
Give respect to the other, and respect her/his boundaries. Just because someone trusts us does not mean that we can cross his/her boundaries. We give them their personal space to decide what aspects of their lives they wish to share with us. Respect is an important component of trust. Respect for the other and respecting his/her boundaries is the essence of a “safespace.” The rules are spelled out in manuals and in laws, but everything boils down to respect.
So once we know that we can trust the other and vice-versa, we will not be afraid to be in an “unsafe space.” We will also not fear being vulnerable. Vulnerability is the core of “weakness” or “unworthiness.” But we can turn “weakness” into power. It is a Taoist principle. It is like a smooth running river—so slow and tame and yet it is so powerful it can erode stones and rocks.
And so we must turn to the power of vulnerability. It is facing possibilities, not certainties. Being alive is being uncertain most of the time. By allowing ourselves to be vulnerable in the midst of uncertainties, we may become kinder to others and to ourselves. Why so? It is because we accept the fact that we are all humanly imperfect and we are all in the same boat, undifferentiated from the rest. And so we begin to understand ourselves and others through our common human-ness and shared vulnerability. Embracing vulnerability is being authentically human, the willingness to do something without guarantees, the willingness to invest in a relationship that may not work out, the readiness to be judged unfairly and not to be hurt into smithereens.
Jesus Himself embraced His human nature as an essential part of His Messiah-ness. He had to be human so He, too, could be hurt, could suffer pain, and only through pain could He redeem man from his sins of cruelty against his fellow men.
May God help you build the courage to move on during this new academic year—trusting in God’s helping hand and believing in what He has commissioned you to do within the setting of Miriam College, to take care of His children and work along with their parents. Please listen well and hear the voice of Jesus the Master Teacher as He reminds us, “I never said that teaching was going to be easy. But I said that it is indeed worth it.”
Praying for the Light of Truth, Peace, and Love among all of us, and for our “brave rising”
AMBASSADOR LAURA Q. DEL ROSARIO, M.A., M.Ed.